Take a look at the incoming freshman class for the Michigan hockey team and there’s one name that may stand out:
The Hughes name is hard to overlook for any fan of Michigan — or hockey in general.
The eldest brother, Quinn, played for the Wolverines from 2017-2019 and was the number seven overall pick of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL draft. In his first NHL season, he finished as a finalist for Rookie of the Year.
The middle brother, Jack, didn’t go the college route, but that didn’t affect his stock. He was selected by the New Jersey Devils first overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft.
But Luke, the youngest brother, may just be the most talented of the three.
His six-foot-two frame makes him three inches taller than either of his brothers. On the ice, he’s both a lockdown defenseman and a threat on the offensive end. Off the ice, he’s preparing for the NHL draft — and soaking up all of his brothers’ advice.
“(My brothers) kind of taught me going into the year that you got to be ready for everything,” Luke told reporters last week. “You’ve got to stay level minded and you can’t get too high or low all through the year. I’ve watched most of my brother’s games, every time they’re playing and I’m not. We talk a lot, talk about plays and little areas of what you can do and can’t do. That’s huge for me and that’s a really good tool I use a lot.”
Last season, he put up laudable numbers, amassing 34 points in 38 games for the U-18 US National Team Development Program (USNTDP). He has all the makings of a great hockey player — and his coach knows it.
“He’s really mature. At a young age, he already has a very mature, professional approach,” USNTDP coach Dan Muse said. “He really strives to make sure that he’s finding ways to get a little bit better every day. He’s extremely dedicated to his craft, and he’s handled all that outside noise extremely well.”
That outside noise is quickly reaching a fever pitch. He’s a likely top-ten pick and his raw potential could help him go even higher, if refined. With less than a week to go until the draft, fans of the NHL franchises picking early should be salivating over the prospects of selecting Luke and seeing him one day suit up for their squad. But for Michigan fans, they’ll only have to wait a few more months.
“Luke’s a very talented player. He’s really taken huge strides even the last year, the last two years,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “He’s just starting to grow into himself and his game. (He’s a) very, very good hockey player.”
Pearson is no stranger to the talent of the Hughes family. In his first year as head coach of the Wolverines, he watched Quinn put up 29 points as a freshman — third most on the team. He played a key part in leading Michigan to the Frozen Four.
Quinn is long gone from Ann Arbor, but his impact can still be felt. Since Quinn, and throughout Pearson’s tenure, the Wolverines have relied upon an offensive defenseman to be a key cog in their game plan: namely Cam York, who’s now left for the NHL, and most recently freshman Owen Power.
That role is now bestowed to Luke. Following in the footsteps of an older brother who left such a legacy at Michigan can be a daunting position for most players. But for Luke, it’s right where he wants to be.
“There’s certain individuals who don’t want to come here because you’re following either your dad or a brother and they don’t want any part of that, and they’ll go somewhere else.” Pearson said. “But not Luke. He wants to be here and he’s a different player than Quinn and he’s a different player than Jack but he’s his own guy too. I don’t think there’s any added pressure on him. And if there is some pressure, he invites that in.”
The last name may cause people to tune in, but Luke’s unique abilities on the ice are what holds peoples’ attention. If he keeps playing the way he has been, he won’t be known as just “Quinn’s younger brother” for much longer.
“He’s able to get the puck out of the defensive zone so quick that there’s a lot of times, because he’s so good at that, he doesn’t have to defend as much as maybe other players do,” Muse said. “That makes him who he is.”
The transition to the college game is never straightforward, but Luke’s time with the USNTDP gave him the unique opportunity to play collegiate teams. In February, the USNTDP took on Arizona State in a two game exhibition series. Over those two games the USNTDP scored eight goals. Luke assisted on four of them.
He’s already proving his game is college ready. When he does arrive in Ann Arbor, he’s coming into an ideal situation because Michigan is loaded with talent for the 2021-2022 season. Loaded may even be an understatement.
By the time Luke hears his name called in the draft, there could already be three other Wolverines off the board. Power has become the consensus number one overall pick. Forwards Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson are both expected to go in the top ten as well. Power and Beniers have already indicated they’re leaning towards coming back for their sophomore seasons and Michigan is also returning the services of forward Thomas Bordeleau — the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Safe to say, the addition of Hughes is icing on the cake for what could be the best Wolverine hockey team in a decade.
“We’re going to be a really good team next year and hopefully we can go pretty far and try to win it all,” Luke said. “I’m super excited for my time and watching my brother Quinn go through it and how much he grew up as a player, as a person, I’m really excited for that.”
With the talent, the draft hype, the expectations and the last name he bears, the pressure is definitely on for Luke. But with his approach to the game, it’s a pressure he embraces.
“We always just talked about continuing to find ways to get a little bit better every day,” Muse said. “That’s the main focus that we had in the development this year. I think he’s got a great head on his shoulders; he’s got a mature approach when it comes to the draft. I feel like he handled (the pressure) well throughout the year.”
When Luke hears his name called on draft night it will be the culmination of a hockey journey.
But the chance to make a name for himself at Michigan is only just beginning.